Last month we looked at operations during a working fire at a restaurant in a typical community in the United States. Staffing was three members, including the officer, and additional help was at least six minutes away. This month, we are working the same scenario; however, when the crew members advance a line into the building, they stumble on victims. The potential for locating victims is there. Patrons told them on arrival that they believed people were still inside. They originally focused on a strategy and tactics, which they begin to implement. Now, they encounter an obstacle: They come upon victims. Now what?
There are two obvious answers. One is to drop the line and start to “drag.” Remember, you are a two-person crew—you and the firefighter on the back of the rig. Hopefully, the driver is outside giving you water and feeding some line and doing all the other “stuff” good drivers do. That’s not a lot of people to begin to “drag” with. The other answer is to step over the victims and move ahead with the original objective of putting out the fire. (Needless to say, either action would be accompanied by requests for additional help and assignments to other incoming units.)
There is no right or wrong answer here. As easily as I can justify one action, I can justify another. I know what I “believe” I would do; but, when actually faced with the problem, I can only “hope” that I would react in that manner. In my mind, when you face overwhelming odds or obstacles, a good rule is to do the most for the most. In this instance, if we drop the line and drag out one victim at a time before help arrives (perhaps one or two victims; we can see several more), the problem only gets worse for those not yet located. In this instance, if we can bypass the obvious (those located victims) and darken the fire, stop the production of heat and smoke, and then aggressively ventilate (with the hoseline or a fan), we are doing the best for the most in the least amount of time. Even if we only find those few several feet inside the door, we have optimized our efforts.
—John “Skip” Coleman, deputy chief of fire prevention, Toledo (OH) Department of Fire and Rescue, is the author of Incident Management for the Street-Smart Fire Officer (Fire Engineering, 1997) and Managing Major Fires (Fire Engineering, 2000). He is an editorial advisory board member of Fire Engineering and a member of the FDIC Educational Advisory Board.
Question: You are the officer on a three-person engine company in a five-station fire department. Your station is on the outskirts of town, where future city expansion is expected. If you catch a fire in the far end of your district, you are about six minutes away from your next-in unit, which is another engine company. You pull up to a nightclub with dozens of cars in the parking lot. Heavy volumes of smoke are coming from the building. You see fire inside the front door near the stage area. Civilians tell you that they believe many people are still inside. You and the other firefighter pull a line inside; approximately two to five feet inside the door you come across a victim. Within the one or two feet of visibility, you see several other victims lying on the floor. What do you do?
Bobby Halton, deputy chief, Albuquerque (NM) Fire Department
Response: With only two persons on the handline and six minutes for backup, this is a tough problem. Let’s first look critically at what the situation could be. What is the true nature of the problem? Why would grown healthy adults not be able to exit unassisted through an unobstructed door? What could have prevented their exit?
The answer is the gases present prior to and after the ignition of the furniture and decorations in the establishment. If we look at the types of fuel available in a restaurant/nightclub, we find a wide variety of plastics. If we look at other fires of this type where an analysis of the gases produced has been done, for example, the Stouffer’s Inn Fire, Harrison, New York, 1980, which claimed 26 lives, we can find an answer.
Based on scientific evidence, it is reasonable to assume that a wide variety of chemicals were released by the generation of heat. The source of the heat is irrelevant; quantitative decomposition is the point (the time when these products are giving off toxic and fatal gases). For most plastics, the quantitative decomposition occurs at half the plastics’ ignition temperatures.
What in this restaurant could be plastic? PVC and urethane chairs, polyester drapes and tablecloths, NaughahydeTM vinyl and urethane foam sofas, and flooring of every description (nylon/wool, nylon, or PVC tile). Add to that load decorations of every description and all plastic and soundproofing insulation. So, could a fast-moving fire fueled by, say, vinyl wall coverings have created toxic and fatal gases that killed these people before they could reach the doors? Could the intense heat have generated a temperature of more than 1,000°F and the thick dark smoke have disoriented them long enough for the corrosive gases to destroy their lung and throat tissues?
We should pull the person two feet from the door to safety. We should continue in and try to remove as many as possible to the fresh air outside. We should instruct the second due to vertically ventilate. But, what is the antidote for the toxic gases that these people have in their systems? Do our medics carry anything other than oxygen to help them? In Europe, all medics carry a smoke inhalation medication that is very effective for victims of cyanide and other common toxic combustion gases. We don’t have it because no one is pushing the Federal Drug Administration to release it. There’s not enough interest in it; in America, that means money.
In the Stouffer’s Inn fire, it was reported that more than half of the victims had sublethal levels of carbon monoxide. All but one had various levels of cyanide, but what killed these people where the smoke hit them was corrosive acid gas. Could a carpet fire in a long, well-ventilated hallway have caused the PVC-lined hallway to off-gas this corrosive poison? Just a thought.
Get out the victims you can. If they fell from the conditions I have imagined, they are dead. Try to stop the production of gases by getting to the seat of the fire and putting it out. You can do nothing for dead people. Do the best you can until adequate help arrives. If the customers are down in full arrest, this is a body recovery operation, not a rescue. Keep yourself and your crew safe. Moving people out will use up a lot of energy and air. Assess the conditions, and use as much horizontal ventilation as is safe. If you can find the seat of the fire and get water on it as soon as possible, PPV would be an excellent aid in this rescue.
Rick Lasky, chief, Lewisville (TX) Fire Department
Response: Considering that we are arriving with one engine company with three personnel and with the stated delay of the next-in companies, as much as we would like to start dragging people out, our first priority would have to be getting water on the fire. For years, fire service leaders such as Deputy Chief John Norman, Chief Tom Brennan, and the late Andy Fredericks have said, “If you put the fire out, your problems tend to go away.” The more quickly we get water on the fire, the more quickly we will see things start to turn in our favor.
I’ve been witness to the debates in some tactics and strategy classes where students are presented with the scenario of pulling up to a residential structure with someone hanging out a window and smoke showing, and so on. Some will argue that the first-due engine needs to throw a ladder and get the victim at the window down. But, to be honest, I’m a little more concerned about those inside who are in a whole lot more trouble. With that in mind, I’m going to get my line inside as fast as I can, hit the fire, and allow the next-in company to get to the victim at the window.
When looking at this scenario, I can’t help but think about what our brothers in West Warwick, Rhode Island, went through at The Station fire. Those firefighters faced a horrific fire scene with a whole bunch of obstacles.
My response to this question is not “second guessing” the actions taken by anyone else at a similar incident. On arriving at the scenario described, our first action, while giving our size-up, would be to call for suppression and EMS help immediately. If while advancing the attack line I can pull out someone who is close to the door without slowing the advancement of the hoseline and attack, I would have to consider it. But, considering what I am seeing in the way of victims, I would have to keep reminding myself that if we don’t get water on this thing quickly, not just those close to the door are going to perish but also those deeper in the building, those near the other exits, and anyone else who may be still hanging on.
With regard to grabbing those near the door, a lot would depend on what kind of heat we meet at the door. If we can get in without having fire run above us in a concealed space and possibly come down behind us, then we would have to push in. If we are facing a rapidly growing and extending fire, the more time before we throw water on it is just that much more time for the fire to take control. By maybe making a “grab” or two near the door and at the same time hitting as much of the fire as we can, we can hopefully buy some time until the cavalry gets there. More importantly, maybe we can buy some time for those in the building.
Steve Kreis, assistant chief, Phoenix (AZ) Fire Department
Response: The initial actions in this scenario are fairly straightforward. The time of day, dozens of cars in the parking lot, civilians telling you that others are still inside, the way the fire and smoke are presenting, and a few other factors dictate an offensive strategy. The first-due engine would lay a supply line into the scene from the nearby fire hydrant, or the pump operator would hand jack a supply line to the nearest fire hydrant if one is in close proximity. The engine would spot the apparatus near the front door.
The company officer would assume command in the fast attack mode (going inside with the firefighter), transmit a brief initial report to alarm headquarters for all responding units to hear, and then order a 13/4-inch quick-attack line (from a transverse hosebed) to be deployed through the front door. The company officer must also quickly call for lots of help. Then the firefighter and officer would don their SCBAs and extend the attack line inside to control the fire.
With dozens of cars in the parking lot, people reporting victims inside, and based on the time of day, the best initial action for the company is to remove the fire from the people instead of trying to remove the people from the fire.
When company members find the first victim and see others in the vicinity, they must realize that if they begin the rescue process, they will soon be overwhelmed with victims, and the fire will continue to grow. A single company trying to rescue victims in this scenario will only be able to help a very few. The members must continue the fire attack. If the initial company can make an early call for additional resources and knock down the fire, it has done a full day’s work.
Even though there are known victims in this scenario, a utilitarian perspective is the only viable option. The company must control the fire using an attack line. Hopefully, a battalion chief will get there to assume command, other companies will arrive to begin the rescue process, and truck companies will get the place ventilated. If not, once control is achieved, the initial company needs to begin removing victims from the structure.
Ron Hiraki, assistant chief, Gig Harbor (WA) Fire & Medic One
Response: This is a tough situation. There are two assumptions: (1) We have already called for additional help and (2) the line we laid is not going to extinguish or control the fire. The reasonable course of action is to rescue the victims as we find them. Since we are so close to the door, one of us can use the hoseline to hold back the fire and protect the victims while the other person drags outside as many victims as possible.
We would be “on the edge” of the buddy system rule, so we would have to be mindful of the physical distance, fire conditions, and activity of each other to ensure the safety of each other.
The situation described is not triage, where we would bypass these victims and move on to try to find victims who are worse off. These victims are in peril now. Let’s get them out now.
Perhaps our hoseline will serve as a beacon and help a few other victims find their way out. Additionally, removing these victims near the door will make it easier for the incoming firefighters to get in and rescue additional victims or extinguish the fire.
Katherine T. Ridenhour, captain, Aurora (CO) Fire Department
Response: The firefighter and officer enter the front entrance and see several victims lying on the floor. Now what? The officer immediately radios this information and proceeds on. Why? This critical situation demands decisive risk/benefit analysis. We have probably all heard risk management plans that state something like, “We will risk a lot to save a lot” and “Significant risk to the safety of members shall be limited to situations where there is a potential to save endangered lives.” These explain the intent of risk/benefit but do not give us practical tools to assist with on-scene decision-making processes.
The best tool I know of for risk/benefit analysis at fireground operations is the concept of Value/Time/Size (V/T/S).
- Value. Is there value to putting firefighters inside the building? Value is based primarily on savable lives but can also be based on savable property. Obviously, the answer is yes, we will take the risk.
- Time. This is based on how long the fire has been burning the structural members in a particular type of construction. Fire officers must have solid knowledge of building construction and fire behavior. Each construction type has definite time limits associated with its ability to withstand collapse from fire. The construction type of the restaurant appears to be Type V Wood Frame (exterior wood load-bearing walls and wood roof members). The roof construction is probably lightweight and has a burn time of two to five minutes before collapse occurs if the attic is significantly involved. This tells the officer that the immediate priority is to put water on the fire and trusses.
- Size. This is the square footage of the area on fire as it relates to gallons per minute (gpm). The National Fire Academy fire flow formula is L 2 W divided by 3, multiplied by percentage of the structure on fire, which equals the gpm necessary to put out the fire. The restaurant is 3,000 square feet; that works out to 1,000 square feet multiplied by approximately 25 percent involvement (and spreading), which means the hoseline needs to flow 250 gpm. Therefore, the 21/2-inch line was chosen over the 13/4-inch line to ensure the necessary gallonage, stream, and reach.
The more aggressive approach taken at this fire means greater risk: We did not secure a water supply and used a large hoseline to achieve the greater benefit—saving more lives.
The crew is now in position inside the restaurant to begin fire control. Members direct the solid bore or straight hose stream to the ceiling area first to stop flashover and any more fire spread, thereby reducing the potential for collapse. Then they blast the base of the fire and begin to break out windows, releasing the toxic gases to give the greatest number of victims the chance to survive. Search now begins near the fire area while the next arriving companies bring in the water supply and assist with rescue.
Risk/benefit analysis is done every day in the fire service. Value/Time/Size gives us a tool for making fact-based decisions. Using V/T/S on this scene with an aggressive approach, you give more victims the chance to become patients—not fatalities.
Bob Zoldos, captain, Fairfax County (VA) Fire and Rescue Department
Response: The answer must be based on the “greater good” ideal. The decision is to either rescue those who probably can be removed or try to save the most possible.
Effectively applying water on the fire would quickly increase the chance of survival for those still inside. If we continue to attack the fire and protect those we found, we stand a good chance of reducing or removing the hazard. This lessening of the fire hazard might give those trapped the time they need to survive until the rest of the response arrives and begins removing/treating them.
Time and communication are key in this decision. If we remove and begin to treat one victim, we forsake all others inside the structure. By staying the course of fire suppression, we can do the most with the available time and resources.
By communicating our findings and the work that needs to be done, we can shorten the reflex time of those arriving on-scene. Remember, the arrival of the next few companies will bring needed search and rescue teams as well as members to treat the rescued. We will have them “in the game” sooner if we communicate our needs to them early.
Fire control, time, and communication are important factors that need to be considered when deciding among several imperfect alternatives. Doing the greatest good seems to be the most acceptable standard of service to apply in this difficult case.
Bob Oliphant, lieutenant, Kalamazoo (MI) Department of Public Safety
Response: Where victims are virtually within your sight, as in this situation, the initial action should be to remove as many of them as you can from the building. Considering how quickly people can succumb to the effects of toxic smoke and gases, especially carbon monoxide, they might be the only savable victims. They may not survive until the next engine company arrives.
The two interior firefighters could drag the victims to the door, and the pump operator could pull them out of the building. I would continue with this process as long as the victims can be located by sight alone. When the smoke becomes too dense to see the victims, I would try to attack the fire with the hoseline or back out, depending on the interior conditions.
I would treat this situation as a mass-casualty incident that requires triage and focus on the victims I could save as opposed to those who are beyond help.
Bill Sullivan, district chief—recruit training, Toronto (ON) Fire Services
Response: Take command. Immediately call for the highest level of assistance. Call for a third firefighter to mask up and start rescue operations from the door, and work in. Assign other firefighters to advance the line to contain the fire (you must be aware of the adequacy of the water supply). Have the police/public assist with victim removal: We get them to the door; they get them out into the fresh air.
Have the first-arriving vehicle take a hydrant and feed the pump. Assign the remainder of the second-in crew to rescue. As resources arrive, assign them to relieve first-in companies/rescue/suppression. The circumstances will dictate the priorities of assigning arriving resources.
Mitch Brooks, lieutenant, Columbus (OH) Division of Fire
Response: If we were to encounter victims two to five feet inside the door, I would have the firefighter on the nozzle protect the egress and try to keep the fire from extending toward us while dragging as many people as possible out of harm’s way. I would rely on my pump operator to ensure that a continuous water supply is maintained during this crucial stage of rescue/firefighting.
The member on the hoseline should not advance into the fire building beyond the point where that member and the officer can effectively communicate. Also, the hoseline now becomes a valuable lifeline for the rescuer and would enable the firefighter to rapidly return to the fire room for additional rescues. This would be a mentally and physically exhausting situation, to say the least. Communication between the officer and the nozzleman is very important in this scenario.
Billy Jack Wenzel, captain, Wichita (KS) Fire Department
Response: As with all emergency responses, life safety is the first priority. The question becomes, With the limited resources, how can we most effectively impact life safety? With this as the operational goal, I quickly developed three possible tactical objectives. Each could be effective if applied in the correct situation.
1. Generally, we operate under the assumption that the safest way to positively effect life safety is to remove the hazard. In this situation, if the fire is visible and can be controlled or held in check with one line, that first crew must get to the fire. It will be difficult to pass by victims needing assistance, but by controlling the hazard, you provide the walking wounded an opportunity to self-evacuate.
2. The question indicates a large volume of smoke is visible. If the fire has vented and has not affected egress, positive-pressure ventilation (PPV) could be an effective first tactical assignment. Pushing the hazardous products of combustion out through the ventilation opening will allow the victims better visibility for self-evacuation. Although this tactic will increase the volume of fire, it could be used initially to make the environment tenable.
3. If the fire cannot be controlled with one attack line and it is unclear if PPV would be effective, the best tactic may be to spend all resources on rescuing the victims. This would include opening multiple avenues of access and egress and establishing triage, treatment, and transport areas.
As with most operations goals, there seldom is one absolute course of action. The only absolute in this situation is the real need to save as many viable victims as quickly as possible. This operational goal should be the focus in determining the tactics chosen.
Christopher Brennan, firefighter, Darien Woodridge (IL) Fire Protection District
Response: This situation is straightforward. It is the engine company’s responsibility to put out the fire. If you abandon your fire attack in favor of pulling out the victims in the immediate vicinity of the door, the overall situation will spiral out of control. We all understand that fire doubles in size every minute. It will take a minimum of a minute to remove the victim who is right inside the door and several more minutes to remove the other victims. All the while, the fire is doubling every minute you are not putting water on it. You will do the most good for the most people by getting water on the fire, checking its spread, and allowing those individuals still able to self-rescue the opportunity to do so. We need to get the first line between the fire and the victims if we have any hope of getting people out.
Also, this fire should be fought with 21/2-inch hoselines. The size of the nightclub and the likely presence of highly flammable materials require the flow of the large-bore handline. A single crew, officer and firefighter, would likely be able to advance into the building. Once the line is flowing water, a single firefighter should be able to control the line by making a loop to sit on in the hallway or using a rope-hose tool. This allows the officer to check the surrounding area for victims; call for help; and, if possible, while not losing voice or visual contact with the member on the line, drag the victims immediately inside the door out of the building.
Chris Murtha, firefighter, Wilmington (DE) Fire Department
Response: The officer of this engine company is obviously faced with the worst-case scenario. There are confirmed multiple civilian rescues that need to take place immediately. There is also concern about allowing a firefighter to advance on the fire alone while the officer attempts any rescues he can until help arrives.
We need to do the greatest good for the greatest number of people within the shortest time. This will be accomplished by extinguishing the fire as rapidly as possible. Two firefighters will not be able to accomplish all of the needed rescues before the unchecked fire overruns the building and claims more victims than it would have if fire suppression efforts had continued. We are all aware of how difficult it is for two firefighters to rescue even one victim. Yet, we simply can’t ignore viable victims in our immediate area while help is still five to six minutes away.
The apparatus driver obviously would have to stay with the engine to operate the pump. He can still help stretch the line at the doorway, force other doors and windows within a reasonable distance of the apparatus, hook up to a hydrant if one is close by, and assist with removing victims brought to the front door by the officer. His priorities should be assisting with the attack line and establishing a water supply if one is close by. His next priority would be to stay by the front door to assist with victim removal.
The officer should instruct the firefighter to continue to advance on the fire. Experience, training, and plain old common sense are needed to guide this firefighter’s actions. He should advance into the building as far as he can, within reason, to attack the fire. Putting out the fire will make everything else better. He should not travel up or down any stairs or venture too far into the building. How far is considered too far is a decision that must be made in an instant at the scene and will be guided by the fire conditions, building layout and construction, and the degree of difficulty in advancing the hoseline with little assistance. The firefighter must keep his officer updated on the conditions within the building as he advances and must temper his aggressive actions with common sense and caution.
The officer should initiate rescues of the victims he has found. He should remove a victim from the building and return for the next victim. He can help limitedly with pulling the line as he continues searching. A little help is better than no help. The apparatus driver can assist with victim removal when the victim is at the door with the officer. Police officers, EMS personnel, and even civilians, in such an extreme case, can help to get the victims away from the building. The officer can stay in contact with the other firefighter by portable radio and by voice contact as he continues with the rescues. He should limit his search to the areas near the hoseline to avoid getting lost until help arrives. Preplanning and prior visits to the occupancy that should have taken place would be of great help to the officer and firefighters as they accomplish their tasks.
The safety police probably want to have me committed for leaving a firefighter in the building to attack the fire by himself as the officer attempts to make the rescues. It is certainly not the ideal situation and should not be the normal routine for any engine company. However, drastic times call for drastic measures. Delaying the fire attack will only make the situation worse, yet we have to start the rescue effort. When help arrives, the officer can then join the firefighter on the hoseline to complete extinguishment of the fire.
My hat is off to the firefighters in West Warwick, Rhode Island, who accomplished an incredible feat under similar circumstances.
John Thomas, fire investigator, Montclair (NJ) Fire Department
Response: As the officer, at the point where I see the victims, I would do exactly what most of our training tells us not to do—break up the team—but I would keep that firefighter within hearing distance. I would advance the hoseline to protect the victims and have the second firefighter pull out the victims. I would radio that we have multiple victims and would request a second alarm. I would have the pump operator start to establish a water source because what is in the tank may not be enough to protect the victims.
The questions I would have are the following: Does every firefighter present have a radio? How is the pumper set up? What is my first-alarm response?
Marc D. Greenwood, lieutenant, Akron (OH) Fire Department
Response: The officer in charge is confronted with enough variables to tax a second-alarm assignment. Once several victims are discovered, Dispatch must be advised that multiple EMS units are needed. In our system, this would be termed a “limited victim incident,” which handles up to 25 patients and establishes various protocols involving radio communication, the types of units dispatched, hospital notification, paramedic and other staffing, and medical treatment.
Meanwhile, the officer is confronted with distractions, vexations, and internal stresses that might compel him to react instead of think quickly and prioritize activities. In such a situation, the officer must demonstrate command, control, poise, and discipline.
First, extinguish the fire, preferably from the uninvolved side, to prevent fire and smoke from being pushed on the victims and limit fire/smoke damage to the structure. Rapid extinguishment provides trapped occupants with an escape route. After knockdown, assess the victims. Able victims must be given clear and concise directions for exiting the nightclub. Designate an area near the pump operator for the walking wounding to congregate. Injured or disabled patients must be carried outside. Use all salvage covers and runners as a ground cover. Enlist available police officers and civilians to carry patients to the triage area. During the incident, search the entire nightclub for disoriented, impaired, and injured patrons.
A risk/benefit analysis must be performed at every incident. Risk more when there are savable occupants and less when only property is at stake.
Company officers must perform these four tasks at fires: ensure firefighter safety, remove endangered occupants, extinguish the fire, and conserve property. Performing these foundational tasks at every incident improves the company’s chances of going home safely at shift change and provides skilled, courageous fire protection to our community.
Ed Herrmann, lieutenant, City of Boynton Beach (FL) Fire Rescue
Response: Welcome to one of those scenarios that is going to require you to bend some of the rules regarding personal safety. Let’s begin with the understanding that on arrival I gave a brief but descriptive arrival report, assumed working command, requested at least two additional alarms, and activated our county’s established mass-casualty EMS response system through Dispatch. This one minute of radio communication is without a doubt the most important factor in this initial response, since it will set up the remainder of the incident for reasonable success or failure.
While I was doing that, my firefighter was pulling the preconnected handline deemed appropriate for the size of the structure, degree of involvement, and mobility issues presented with only two personnel on the line. My operator/engineer has assisted the firefighter and charged the line, is searching out the best hydrant supply (if I didn’t do this on the way in), and is doing whatever else he can accomplish (scene lighting, ventilation, gear prep, and so on) while not leaving our lifeline—the pumper.
Since we all know that the two-in/two-out rule is out the door for the beginning of this nightmare, the question is, Do we begin rescue operations or attack the fire? My answer is that both of these assignments MUST begin immediately.
Once we have made entry into the structure and found the main body of fire, one member should stay with the hoseline, near the door, and apply water to the fire. This is vital because we all know that fire growth is not a linear function. A fire allowed to burn without interference for a specific period of time will double in size and intensity within that time, which would kill many of the occupants in precarious situations inside the structure and possibly hasten structural collapse. Keep in mind that the fire attack hopefully would knock down the fire, reducing the production of smoke and toxic gas and improving conditions for unprotected civilians and rescue operations.
The firefighter making the attack will also provide protection and guidance to the exit for the other firefighter engaged in rescue. From the description of the scene, numerous victims are scattered about the club, many just inside the door. The more physically fit of the two firefighters would pull victims out of the club and bring them to a safe treatment area just outside the structure’s collapse zone. There will be no time for treatment at this time, but the fresh air will result in a dramatic improvement for victims’ breathing. The multiple-unit MCI response is expected to arrive shortly.
This short-term solution is reasonably safe and takes into account the risk-benefit analysis. Simply attacking the fire for six minutes will cause numerous victims to perish from the resulting toxic atmosphere. Making as many rescues as possible allows the fire to grow unchecked, sacrificing those not reached earlier.
By keeping the crew within range of vision, voice, or search line contact and accepting the heightened risk that the potential benefit surely justifies, several saves could be accomplished in those six minutes.
Jim Mason, firefighter, Chicago (IL) Fire Department
Response: If the first rig on the scene is an engine, the best way to save lives is to put out the fire. Smoke is visible when we arrive on the scene, so we should do a forward hydrant lead out to just past the front of the building. While laying large-diameter hose to the front of the building, the officer should pull an extra alarm, request ambulances, and ensure that the engine leaves room for the truck company in front.
We need to have a hydrant because we are going to lead out a 21/2-inch line into the front door of the building, where we can see fire. Without a hydrant, the 325 gpm flowing from the 13/4-inch smooth bore tip will empty the tank of water in about 11/2 minutes. Commercial occupancies have few, if any, partition walls inside. Because of this large open space, the gpm will need to be larger than the typical 13/4-inch line can flow. The reach of the stream from a 21/2-inch line is a great advantage over that of the smaller line.
To do the forward lay, stop at the closest hydrant, drop off a firefighter to first check the hydrant, and then open the valve when the engine has stopped. When the engine stops, another firefighter can set the pump panel pressures.
While this is happening, the third firefighter can lay 21/2-inch hose in front of the building for the interior attack. If there is a sprinkler system, put the first line into the connection first, especially if it doesn’t have a supply other than the fire department. When filled with water, the 21/2-inch line will weigh about 100 pounds per 50-foot length; therefore, place the nozzle at the front door of the building while the nozzle is dry, and lay enough line to reach the rear of the fire room straight back from the door to the curb of the street. This way, when your team starts to pull the line toward the seat of the fire, it will not get hooked on anything such as the jamb of the entrance door.
A 21/2-inch line can help also with the building construction considerations. A quick risk/benefit size-up will tell us that since there is a lot to save (civilians who may still be alive down on the floor), there will be a lot of risk for the firefighters (going into the building even if the construction is of noncombustible bar joist truss). Unless there is an obvious collapse of the building, we are going to make this interior attack. If we wash down the ceiling in front of our advance by using the reach of the stream, we will knock down a lot of fire. If bar joists are starting to fail, we can bring back some of the strength in them by cooling them.
All the firefighters would benefit from using a shoulder strap wrapped around the hose to help with the weight and the backpressure while advancing the interior attack. The second firefighter on the advancing line should be 15 to 20 feet behind the nozzle; that amount of hose lying on the ground behind the nozzleman will help to control the line. After the hydrant man has joined the hose team, he should take a position on the line at the next length’s butt connection. Again, this will help to advance the line inside because each firefighter will now not be duplicating the pull of another firefighter.
In this fire situation, we should have a lot of information about the scene before we arrive. There will be multiple cell phone calls to the dispatch center that will tell us that we have a structure fire. We should also have preplanned this occupancy. This will ensure that we know the rig is carrying enough hose to reach from the hydrant to the front of the building, how big the building is to determine the amount hose to be pulled inside, the type of construction, and alternate ways out if we get separated from the line.
If the engine members abandon the fire attack and start dragging out civilians found in the path of egress, they most likely would be allowing other unseen civilians to die because the fire will continue to grow unchecked. The engine company members are now in danger because they are part of the life hazard instead of part of the solution. A blitz attack of this fire will save the greatest number of lives that a three-firefighter engine company acting alone can save. One more thing to remember is that for this to even begin to work, every member must be well trained and in good enough physical shape to do his part.
Kai W. Rieger, firefighter/paramedic, Jackson Township Fire Department, Canton, Ohio
Response: We must get water on the fire even though we are faced with immediate victims. If the fire is inside the front door near the stage area, hopefully we can get water on the fire from the front-door area. We must make every attempt to move the line to one side of the entrance and to keep the nozzle operating. The nozzleman gets past the door two to five feet and stays with the operating nozzle, attacking the fire and superheated gases. The officer starts to remove victims inside the doorway and other close-by victims.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. This may be the hardest fire you will ever face in your career. The nozzleman is only a few feet from the door operating a nonmoving handline. He is the only thing keeping the fire at bay and cooling the atmosphere.
The officer will radio command and report on conditions and summon more help. The officer will drag victims a few feet to the immediate outside of the building, away from the doorway, so the victims can breathe fresh air. No first aid will be given initially, just removal. The officer is coming right back to the nozzleman to check in and remove another immediately visible victim.
After the next unit arrives, the officer will again pair up with the nozzleman to complete the team. Neither the nozzle firefighter nor the officer is leaving the area of the doorway. Both are likely in verbal communication. No firefighter can get lost because both are operating in the doorway and the line is not moving anywhere. If the officer is not relieved by another arriving company and is physically drained, he and the nozzleman can switch places.
This entire scenario will be over within a matter of minutes. It is probably the only hope for survival for the few victims inside the doorway.
To abandon an immediate rescue is sacrilegious. To abandon the attack hoseline for a rescue is dangerous and deadly. If the fire is in an area away from the front of the building, this strategic theory is voided. Given our information, performing attack and immediate rescue of doorway victims simultaneously is the best option. Hopefully, the cavalry will arrive soon.
Danny Kistner, battalion chief, Garland (TX) Fire Department
Response: First, pulling a line as an initial action is probably a knee-jerk reaction to an overwhelming situation. With heavy smoke and fire at the stage area, what are the temperatures inside? Are there savable victims in the building, or are we risking ourselves for the already lost?
Because of the seriousness of the business we are in and the majority of personalities found in the fire service, we would be hard pressed to do nothing. Right or wrong, I think the vast majority of firefighters would risk the ultimate to make a difference in this situation.
Help is still six minutes away. We have already committed ourselves to an offensive attack. We now have to ask, “How can we do the most good for the most people?”
One thing is sure: If we abandon our hoseline for rescue, the fire will only grow and conditions will become untenable for firefighters and victims. Therefore, I would leave one firefighter with the nozzle and instruct him to hold his position or defend the avenue of escape. The second firefighter, or the officer, should immediately report his situation to incoming units and call for additional alarms or mutual aid if it was not already done.
I would advocate an advance on the fire only if extinguishment or darkening of the fire would be immediate. I do not see any gain in a sustained effort to advance on this fire with little to no effect. The time would be better spent coordinating suppression with a rescue effort, feeble as that may be.
The second firefighter should then concentrate on removing victims to the best of his ability. You would have to decide who should be removed first. Realistically, the first victim you come to would be the first removed. Idealistically, those most in danger but still savable should be removed or relocated to a less hostile area.
Based on fire and smoke conditions, however, these two firefighters may have to settle for a rapid rescue of two or three victims and then get out before they fall victim to a flashover.
Unfortunately, these firefighters will be extremely limited in what they can do. Care must be taken to minimize their separation. Communication must never be broken lest one become lost.
I cannot stress enough the need to know your limitations prior to finding yourself in the midst of one of these types of incidents. Can a lone firefighter rescue a victim who is dead weight? Are your firefighters versed in rescue methods so that they know how to use what is on hand to drag or move victims? Is your nozzleman experienced enough to be left alone for brief periods? Does this nozzleman know what to do if communication is lost with his partner performing the rescue? Can the nozzleman recognize conditions that are deteriorating to the point where flashover is imminent?
Textbooks tell us how to respond in ideal conditions. The buddy system, the two-in/two-out rule, ventilation, backup, rescue, and rapid intervention are learned in sterile environments for the most part. It is impossible to simulate the conditions in this scenario. Rules may have to be stretched or abandoned to accomplish the necessary life-saving objectives. This approach is not advocated; just an acknowledgement of reality.
Lance C. Peeples, instructor, St. Louis County (MO) Fire Academy
Response: Perhaps this question would be better answered in the International City Managers Association trade journal. It seems to me that only city managers and mayors have the answer to the question of how to operate effectively with a three-person engine company. Putting out the fire offers the best odds for saving the most people. If you attempt to remove occupants instead of extinguish the fire, it is likely that the fire will rapidly extend and eliminate any chance of survival for remaining victims. In summary, aggressively attack. It may be possible for the apparatus operator to use a hook to ventilate windows to improve conditions. (Some will argue that the pump engineer should not abandon the pump panel. I say this is an extreme situation that calls for extreme measures.) It would have been far better if the tragedy could have been prevented by requiring the installation of automatic sprinklers. But alas, that costs money.
Andrew Magenheim, firefighter, Franklin Lakes (NJ) Volunteer Fire Department
Response: When we arrive at a major incident scene with reports of confirmed victims trapped, it is difficult not to have tunnel vision and focus solely on rushing in and grabbing the victims. Many firefighters often forget that victims can be rescued either by removing them from an area of danger or by eliminating the danger itself. When dealing with major incidents that will involve multiple rescues, the latter is often the best choice. It is tactically not feasible for a three-person engine company to safely and effectively initiate a rescue of multiple victims from a fire. In this example, if the officer made the decision to cease fire suppression activities and instead begin removing victims, the fire would continue to grow unchecked. Within the six minutes that it would take for the next company to arrive on-scene, there is an extremely high chance that flashover would occur. The flashover would kill all victims not yet rescued and gravely injure or the kill the three firefighters inside the structure.
The most appropriate action for the fire officer is to continue to apply water to the seat of the fire. Keeping the hoseline in service accomplishes two very important tasks. First, it protects the primary means of egress from the structure, which will allow conscious victims to exit the building and keep the heat and smoke conditions in check, which will improve the odds of survival for unconscious victims. Second, you will begin to contain the fire. By curbing the fire’s growth, you allow your second-due company to search deeper inside the building and locate more victims. Sticking to your original tactics and not switching gears to try to perform numerous rescues will save more lives.
Craig H. Shelley, fire protection advisor, Saudi Aramco Ras Tanura Division
Response: With limited staffing (only three), a decision must be made. The unit has stretched a handline and will begin to attack the fire. The next unit is six minutes away; by the time the line is stretched and operating, this unit would be only about three minutes away. The first unit must maintain its position until help arrives. If the handline is abandoned, the fire will spread, most likely eliminating any chance of rescuing the victims. Hopefully, the first unit has stretched a 21/2-inch hoseline and is able to use the reach and gallonage to knock back some fire.
I am a strong proponent of stretching and maintaining a hoseline during rescues. Remember, more lives have been saved by the proper placement of handlines than any other tactic.
There may be an opportunity to have one of the members begin rescues while the other maintains a defensive/offensive position with the hose stream, but this places one or both of the members in jeopardy. It is better to maintain the position, call for help early, and wait until it arrives. The actions of the attack team may be the deciding factor relative to the number of victims rescued. Keep the other units apprised of the situation and your actions so they are prepared to “go to work” once they arrive.
Tom Sitz, lieutenant, Painesville Township (OH) Fire Department
Response: We would continue to stretch the line into the fire area while our chauffeur, who would have taken a position at the front door after charging the line preset position, grabs the victim who is two to five feet inside the door. If the victim is not visible from the front door, we would communicate that someone is just inside the door and that the chauffeur should try to grab the victim. If he is unable to make the two to five feet needed to grab the victim, he would immediately radio that information to us.
Anyone we come across past that two-to-five-foot mark where our chauffeur should be able to lay down, stretch out, and reach the victim would have to wait until the line is in position. Our number one goal is to protect the means of egress and put water on the fire. Our goal is to buy some time for everyone trapped in the building, especially the people in the general fire area, who certainly have less time than someone remote from the fire area.
We are going to use the 70 feet of penetration we get with our 21/2-inch handline to maximize the speed with which we can get water on the fire. In this scenario, it sounds as if we may have to go only 10 to15 feet deep and maybe around one corner to put water on the fire. As soon as the line is in a position to start water on the fire, the backup firefighter will break away from the line and immediately remove the people we passed on our way to the fire. The nozzle firefighter will stay on the nozzle until the fire darkens down or he runs out of tank water; then, he will search from the fire area back to the main entrance.
After the initial victim is removed, our chauffeur will stay at the front door and feed line to the interior to keep the stretch moving and perform horizontal ventilation from that position. The rapid application of water to the fire and rapid horizontal ventilation in conjunction with victim removal will provide the best chance of survival for everyone trapped. If the tank water does not knock down the fire, our two initial firefighters will continue to search and remove victims until the fire drives them out, which will be a substantially longer time than if they went right into rescue mode and did not try to slow the fire’s progression. We carry enough water in our booster tank to continually apply water for three minutes before the tank runs out. A 21/2-inch line fully opened for three minutes puts out a lot of fire. If the fire darkens down after 45 seconds, the nozzleman would immediately shut down and start his search.
This scenario is certainly game day for the first-in engine. If the chauffeur and jump firefighter step off the truck and ask their officer, “What do you want us to do?” the speed of the whole operation is going to slow way down. If you train on these types of scenarios, you will work out the kinks in the system beforehand. You cannot train for every possible scenario, but you should train for the most common ones and the high-risk/high-benefit ones you may be forced to handle, ready or not. This type of scenario-based training provides a building block that everyone should be starting from. If the incident falls within the scenario-based training you were doing, communication and efficiency would be greatly improved because everyone would know who should be doing what.
W. L. Brown, firefighter/EMT, Winchendon (MA) Fire Department
Response: The first part of what to do is easy: Call for extra alarms and declare a multicasualty incident. What to do next is the hard part: Life safety is always the first and foremost item on the to-do list. In an incident like this, the best thing to do for life safety is to try and put out the fire. A three-person engine crew is not going to be able to remove large numbers of victims, but by controlling the fire spread, those victims who can self-rescue would be able to do so. Stopping or controlling the fire spread will allow follow-up crews to enter and attempt rescue operations.